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Welcome to Plant Love Stories!! And: How I became a botanist in New Jersey

by Becky Barak

Many of my plant love stories are actually stories about teachers that helped me see the world in a new way. High school biology class was maybe the first time I started thinking about plants as really, truly alive (and now I’m a botanist, so I guess we all grow up). My teacher had taught us about transpiration -- the flow of water up from the roots of a plant all the way up to the leaves -- against gravity and driven by evaporation. On the way home from school, picturing the single, unbroken chain of water droplets, I looked at the trees with a new appreciation for the secrets within them.

In college I took a class on the flora of New Jersey. It was the first time I worked to identify the species of plants around me. To create my “natural history collection” for a class assignment, I ran around campus, in the rain, with my brand new plant identification book, collecting sticky pine cones, mushy walnut fruits, and spiky sweetgum balls. I took the specimens back to my dorm room, lovingly arranged and photographed each one using my rain poncho as a draped background. I still remember my professor’s notes on that assignment, which included the phrase, “egregious misidentification.” Over time I got better at identifying trees. My misidentifications became less egregious. I started to get to know the species a little bit better. They became acquaintances, and some even became old friends. As I got to know their names my world grew. Now I own a whole stack of plant identification books, and I can identify seedlings a few days after they sprout.

Plants are important. Not just because they absorb carbon dioxide and stormwater, and provide habitat for our favorite animal species - though they do. Plants are touchpoints for our lives. They help us fall in love, with nature and with each other. They remind me of my grandmas. They’re so many more things that I don’t even know yet because you haven’t yet shared your plant love story. You have a plant love story even if you don’t yet know you have one. You don’t have to be a plant expert or a scientist to have a story, and honestly they’re probably more interesting if you aren’t. We’re collecting these stories to show how plants affect us all. Share your story, and help us grow.

Becky "Rudbeckia" Barak is a plant community and restoration ecologist, a founder of Plant Love Stories, and a 2017 Smith Fellow studying biodiversity and restoration in the midwestern tallgrass prairie. Becky tweets about plants (and a few other things) at @BeckSamBar and still occasionally misidentifies plants.


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